In common with Arthur Bell, Harold Bretnall was a Bomber who trained with III Platoon of A Company. Records overlap in other respects and this post on Harold’s service provides further insight into the experiences of my grandfather. Harold was wounded on a number of occasions and ended his military service with the East Lancashire Regiment.
Harold Bretnall was born in Bradford, Manchester on 21 September 1894 (6 months after Arthur Bell). His parents were Francis and Agnes Bretnall, who christened their sixth son at Christ Church, Bradford on 10 October 1894. Harold was the youngest of eleven children. The family lived at 361 Mill Street and Francis was employed as an iron moulder. Francis died in 1907, aged 59 and Agnes remained living at Mill Street, with Harold, his brother, Harry and sister, Annie, in 1911. Harold was then aged 15 and employed as an office boy at a shipping agents.
The 2nd City Battalion of the Manchester Regiment was formed on 2 September 1914 and Harold attested on the next day, aged 19 years and 11 months. 5’ 5½“ in height, Harold weighed 135 lbs and had a fresh complexion and brown hair.
Travelling through France 17th Battalion experienced their first tour of front line duty in early December 1915. Harold was posted the Trench Mortar School on 15 December and returned to the Battalion on 30 December. Harold also trained as a Grenadier and will have been part of the III Platoon Bombing Section with Arthur Bell.
17th Battalion served in the Maricourt trenches during the first six months of 1916. Advancing from this line on 1July 1916 as part of 90th Brigade, the Battalion was instrumental in the liberation of the fortress village of Montauban in the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Harold’s Service Record notes that he was posted Missing on 1-2 July at Montauban. Presumably this relates to his absence from a roll call at Happy Valley, after the Battalion had withdrawn at 3am on 3rd July.
There were inevitably stragglers and wounded men who will have missed the roll call. It is also a distinct possibility that Harold was one of the few survivors of the Bombing Section detachment held up in an isolated shell hole near Triangle Point. Arthur Bell recounted that this group did not make it back to the British line until dawn on 3rd July and arrived at the tented camp later in the day. The group had probably missed the initial roll call and may have been posted missing as a result.
Whatever explanation may apply, Harold hadn’t been missing. 17th Battalion took part in the attack on Trones Wood on 9July 1916 and withdrew from the Front; receiving numerous reinforcements and undertaking training and fatigues.
On 16 July 1916 Harold received an accidental bullet wound to the left arm and he was admitted to 98th Field Ambulance. It is not evident when Harold returned to duty, although he wasn’t evidentally treated in a Casualty Clearing Station or Hospital. Harold may have returned to the Battalion after a few days, possibly in time for the costly assault on Guillemont on 30 July.
Heavy casualties in their opening three engagement required a sustained period for reestablishment of the Battalion as a fighting force. Following the loss of numerous NCOs, many men were promoted and Harold was appointed unpaid Lance Corporal on 8 August 1916. 17th Battalion was based in Bethune and continued training for future duty and fatigues. A detachment was undertaking Rifle Grenade training on 18 August, when a premature discharge killed three men and wounded the officer, Lieutenant Holt, and four Other Ranks.
Harold was accidentally wounded in the right arm on 18 August 1916 and admitted to 96th Field Ambulance. Subsequently moved to a Casualty Clearing Station on 26 August, Harold was diagnosed with cystitis. He was then transferred to 32nd Stationery Hospital at Wimereux on 29 August. The sustained hardship of front line duty and twice being wounded had taken its toll. Harold was diagnosed with Nephritis (Trench Fever) and evacuated to England on 6 September. Harold had been promoted to the rank of Corporal, with the antecedent date for pay purposes as 2 July 1916 – the day when he had been posted missing and prior to his appointment as Lance Corporal.
On 18 January 1917 Harold was posted to 3rd Battalion and transferred to 69th Training Reserve Battalion ‘TR/3/25736’. Posted back to 3rd Battalion of 8 March, Harold returned to France on 13 June 1917. Harold was initially posted 30th Infantry Brigade at Etaples, before returning to duty with 17th Battalion on 29 June. Recognising his relative experience as a veteran of the Somme, Harold was appointed acting Sergeant on 10 July 1917. Harold was wounded on the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres, on 31 July 1917.
Harold was evacuated and rejoined the Depot at Prescot on 25 September 1917, prior to his transfer to 3rd Battalion at Cleethorpes on 17 October. Harold absented himself from duty for one day in November 1917. The Court Martial found him guilty and sentence Harold to being reduced to the rank of Private.
Disembarking in France for a third time, Harold was posted to 2nd Battalion and arrived at Boulogne on 3 January 1918. He served at 30th Infantry Brigade Depot at Etaples before joining 2nd Battalion in the field on 17 January. Wounded in the right thumb on 30 March 1918, Harold was treated in the Field Ambulance and 2nd General Hospital at Rouen.
Harold joined 71st Infantry Brigade Depot, Etaple on 17 April 1918, evidently posted to 9th Battalion. On 22 April 1918 he was taken ill and treated for influenza at 24th General Hospital.
Following recovery Harold was transferred to 2nd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment (East Lancs) on 18 June 1918 and allotted the number ‘31792’. Suffering the effects of Gas Shells he was admitted to 33rd Casualty Clearing Station on 20 August. Evacuated to 54 General Hospital in Boulogne on 22 August, Harold was then treated at 12th Canadian General Hospital on 19 September. Returning to England, Harold was posted to the East Lancs Depot on 5 October. Granted ten days Leave from 21November, Harold was deducted ten days pay for returning late for his duty on 11 December.
Harold was demobilised from the 2nd Battalion East Lancs at Manchester on 22 March 1919. He was classified A1 Medical Grade and returned to his mother’s home at 361 Mill Street, Bradford.
Harold married Lena Harrop at St Clement’s Church, Longsight on 29 November 1924. Harold was then employed as a labourer and the couple lived at 190 Morton Street, Longsight. By 1939 Harold was the Licensee of the Oxnoble Inn 71 Liverpool Road, Manchester. He remained at the Inn in March 1943, when an obituary thanks Harry and Lena foe a floral tribute. Harold died in Manchester in the first quarter 1958, aged 63. Lena passed away in 1962, aged 66. No children have been identified for the couple.